Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 21 March 2014 • Destination
It’s a small town that looked like it hadn’t change much the past 20 years. The roads were narrow with residential houses on each side, cars weren’t the largest population on the streets, and the people had their own pace; one-step at a time. In a city so humble, we figured it would be enough to have two full days to explore the city. 1 – 0 to Blitar. We did so many activities in Blitar. We were running around town like crazy people, trying the things this charming little city has to offer. You know what? It wasn’t possible.
We tried, anyhow. Here are our activities in Blitar for two days, which you can enjoy, too. It doesn’t seem much but it was packed!
Blitar is Soekarno. It’s where Indonesia’s first president was born and buried. In between, it was the city where he’d come and go. Most commonly, people would visit his lavish grave. There’s nothing mediocre or simple to his marble based, carved teak roofed, boulder decorated tomb. He was buried amongst his parents. Ironically, he wished to be buried in West Java but the people of Indonesia saw it differently. There’s never a quiet day at Soekarno’s grave, with people paying respect or those looking for spiritual signs. For real!
Across is a library dedicated to him. It was a nice modern glass-dominated structure with one part of the building containing pictures and photos of him. Another part… well… was filled with books, something much needed in this town, as there is no major bookstore around. Shocking! Yo! Major bookstores! Any help?
Visiting Soekarno’s old house is also in the package. It was pretty much maintained as it used to be. Maybe refurbished a bit but keeping most of its original form and furniture. It’s a perfect model of what houses of the wealthy used to look like, and in case of Blitar, what some still are. The local guide, who’s been around Soekarno’s house since he was a boy, told us many of the house’s history from where Soekarno slept, bathed, and even parked his car. By the way, during his days, Soekarno already had a custom made Mercedes, naturally fit for the first president. Flamboyant!
My visit to his legacies didn’t change much of what I think of the man. I still admire him for his bold visions of the nation. I admire how much he believed in this country. It was also nice to pay a visit to his grave, being as close as I can be to the man.
It would make sense to bike around Blitar as it is an old small city. Upon request, we visited closer destinations by bike. We rode the center just to see what it had installed behind its charming façade. Whadya know? More charm!
Sentul Village was the first on the list. Part of Blitar, this village apparently is home to a rhythmic instrument, which I’m not sure what it’s called other than kendang or gendang. We visited one workshop that was open and was producing much of this instrument, which was said to be sold in Bali.
We were kinda poking around with the assistance of Tugu Hotel bike guide and marketing staff, Pak Dodi. The workers were kind enough to let us ask and stare at their craftsmanship. Some kendang were plain, some were carved, and some were painted in colors. All were manually made. Personally, it’s easy to fall in love with the making process of these kendangs. You could see good hard labor put into each and every one of them. I was amazed enough to see even the simplest carvings were made without a tracer, just out of feeling. The goatskin on the top was pulled and tightened by manpower. And all with your basic equipment. Shirtless men, dripping sweat, artsy hands,… oh Lord!
We also visited the city central, called alun-alun, s call macked in the middle of town, as any old city would be laid out. And like any other city central in Java, we found a big ficus tree in the middle of the field. On one side was the main mosque; on the other, the city hall. It was a quiet weekday, not much was happening other than parents renting battery-powered mini cars to their children. There was hardly anyone using the gym-like playing set on the side of the field. It was just another hot day in Blitar.
Another Blitar surprise was Karangsari Village. Belimbing is the Indonesian word for star fruit. Have you guessed? Yes! This is a village that produces start fruits. Most of the houses within this village have its trees, though there are also plantations right around the corner. During fruit season, they collect and sell the star fruit to a distributor to be sold somewhere else. In this case, much of these ripe, sweet, and handful edible stars are shipped to Bandung and Jakarta.
“Would it be possible to buy just one?” I asked, while staring at the yellow being.
“You can have it.” Said a woman in the process of packing the yellowish green fruit. She also told me that within one or two days these fruits would have reached its optional ripeness.
I sank my teeth into the star and instantly tasted the bursting juices of the fruit. I had never tasted one that juicy and sweet. My thirst for a sweet beverage after the bike ride was over. After two rows, I let Vira continue. She gnarled happily and admitted that she, too, had never found a star fruit that good. After a few questions we found out that for some reason, the soil of the surrounding village is optimal for growing the fruits, and it was never studied as to what the soil actually contained. It was and had always been that way. We were happy with that and the next three free star fruits they gave us.
Just coming out from the village and heading home, we stopped by the company that made the famously exported peanut sauce, pecel Karangsari. Was it that good? Well, I can say this. My mother makes her own pecel sauce because she doesn’t trust much of the brands in the market. This one? She loved, gave compliments, and got mad at me for only buying a block. Mothers!
This bike tour is available to public outside of the Hotel Tugu Blitar guests. Contact the staff to get more information on it.
The basic is the dawet, a rice flour dessert, bathed in coconut milk and liquid palm sugar. The twist is the plered and serabi. I’ve come to learn that plered means making dough balls with your hands. Thus, dawet plered is dawet with additional flour balls in them. Not my favorite kinda drink, as the plereds were plain, chewy, and did no function to the drink aside to making me full.
Meanwhile dawet serabi, which predictably means it’s added cuts of serabi, a cake made of flour, tasted better than the plered. Seems like the dawet liquid wasn’t all that different to that of serabi. Thus, complimenting the whole dessert.
Top to bottom: ‘Dawet plered’, ‘dawet serabi.’
“Dawet and serabi. Two of my favorite desserts mixed in to one? I can’t ask for anything else,” Vira grinned after chowing down a whole mini bowl. And it only cost IDR 3000 / bowl. Crazy cheap!
I think it was the universe that called upon us to visit the rubber and coffee plantation, managed by Pak Anhar, also owner of Tugu Group. We could have visited the south coast beach and swim like no tomorrow as we usually do, but we decided to venture a bit far out risking being late to our dinner at Candi Panataran.
The plantation is located at Wlingi Village, about an hour ride in the Malang direction. It’s a bit elevated, providing cool air and green scenery. I had Tugu’s coffee, known as Kawi Sari coffee, and to be honest, it was really good. It didn’t have the acidity that coffee usually have and had just the right amount of bitterness. Me likey! Vira, a non-coffee drinker, seemed to be able to drink it without any stomach or taste problems. There’s not much more I can say or leak about the plans of this plantation, but there are good things to come of it and you can enjoy it too. Stay tuned!
Oh! Or you could go out and try some of the Kawi Sari Coffee and tell me what you think 😀 You can find it at any Tugu properties for about IDR 75,000 / 250 grams. For more information you can check out this link.
Our most precious findings were the oh-so friendly plantation staff that showed us around and were good company. They told us about the history, production, and the people that worked within the area. Many of them are loyal to the plantation itself as life is pretty good up there. They have been working here for half their lives and are still happy to continue. Although the coffee beans weren’t ready for some pretty picking, we still had the pleasure to enjoy what grew in the area.
Another of my favorite findings is the kepel. This was my first encounter of it and I just have to make a note of it. This fruit tasted like mango jam mixed with sapodilla. Fortunately it was ripe and abundant at its tree foot. Pak Suprapto, Pak Agus, and Pak Dedi was happy and patient enough to give us needed explanation about the fruit seeing that we had encountered something weird, second to aliens. They were entertained by the fact that we were city girls that hardly knew anything about the fruit and were sucking the life out of them. De. Li. Cious!
Dang! A return is much needed. Blitar is so interesting. There’s still so many activities in Blitar that we haven’t done. Why hasn’t anyone told us about this small town before?!